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by Espen Røyseland og Øystein Rø, Secretariat of Europan Norway

As an idea competition for young design professionals, Europan has for 20 years represented an alternative to main stream urban development in Europe. Being at the outskirts of the larger architecture production, Europan has guaranteed attention to the otherness and the new. The competition has created an infrastructure between innovative cities and the next generation designers that has produced a new thinking and new openings.

In the tenth Europan session three cities in Norway hooked up to that infrastructure. The cities called for ideas for revitalization of a suburban centre in Oslo, a strategy for a shrinking town in the periphery of Northern Norway, and plans for an eco-friendly squatter community in Trondheim. Three tasks that deals with pan European issues such as suburbia, multi culture, depopulation, regionalism, alternative culture and sustainability.

A stage for Svartlamoen

The Trondheim site had an impressive number of participants. It was fifth most popular of all 60 sites. The program brief called for a study of the Nyhavna harbour area, the location of Kultimathule art hall and a new building in the Svartlamoen area. The jury concluded that none of the entries dealt with the overall situation in a convincing way and chose a building as the winner and runner-up. In spite of the jury’s conclusion, Europan Norway believes the process has had an impact also on the understanding of the area. It has spurred a debate about the harbour development, and locals flocked to the exhibition that was held in October last year. The Europan competition has also brought clout to the process of an art hall in Trondheim, a function the city clearly needs.

Continuing the unique history of Svartlamoen may, however, prove the most substantial outcome of the competition. What started as a marginal group of squatters has grown to become a vibrant community in Trondheim, regulated in 2002 as an eco-urban test ground. Svartlamoen has in the recent years realized a series of building projects with high architectural qualities. A bench mark wooden building, a kindergarten in a former car shop and lastly a new cultural building next to the future E10 building. These projects have vitalized the area and attracted attention to an alternative model that challenges the dominant driving force in city development, namely value of land.

The winning project “Proscenium” designed by Marianna Rentzou, Alexandros Gerousis and Beth Hughes, we believe, will be an important continuation of this story. The winning design is a subtle framework for the Svartlamoen residents to use and influence. At the same time it portrays a duality, with a brutal concrete facade and a delicate inner courtyard with a gallery space and café. The concept captures the situation with Svartlamoen as an island in midst of industry and infrastructure. Simple, as it may seem, it also holds several spatial qualities bringing out the potential of the apparently limited in-fill site; a courtyard becoming a terrace overlooking Nyhavna, a roof top terrace, and plenty of light and space for people to live and work. A mix of various apartment types and shared space can accommodate a community with a changing demography. Its unpretentiousness, in contrast to other more expressive entries, signals a deeper understanding of Svartlamoen.

The Grorud Valley Portfolio

In Oslo, the Grorud Valley has with E10 been subject to investigation for the third time. Firstly with Økern in Europan 7 with architects Ghilardi Hellsten’s multilayered strategy, architects Smaq’s ecological Grorud centre in Europan 9 and now, Haugerud in Europan 10. The Europan sessions have created a Grorud Valley portfolio that constitutes an important contribution to the discussion about this area. During the rapid city expansions of post-war Oslo, the Grorud Valley was subject to one of the greatest urbanization projects in Norwegian history. Being an almost fresh canvas at the time, the valley functioned as a testbed for the current modernistic ideals on urbanity. Though once being modern and experimental, changes in society has outdated the Grorud model and new interpretations of its suburban systems are imperative.

 Like many of the other suburban nodes of the Grorud Valley system, a key challenge for Haugerud is the question of identity. How to advance from generic to specific? The winning entry, “Shuffle”, by Norwegian architects Joakim Skajaa and Arild Eriksen tries to break with the prevailing, mono-functionalistic architecture of the area by introducing a new typology; the urban village. Their proposal advocates the need for a semi-urban model, and challenges the notion of the relation between density and sustainability. By combining medium-scale, flexible architecture with a dense urban configuration, “Shuffle” is offering a distinctive and considerate urbanity that clearly stands out in its suburban context. If looking for the specific, the strategy offered in “Shuffle” cultivating the human scale might be just what Haugerud needs.

Testing ground for the High North

Vardø had a difficult starting point for a Europan competition. Shrinking and with no clear building program. But a closer look revealed Vardø had things going. It seems like Europan has come in on a turning point and become part of a new attitude. Having hit rock bottom Vardø has the advantage to allow itself to rethink “everything”. Where it should go from now? What can it become? What’s exciting is that this rethinking happens in a regional development context; Vardø is not in the middle of nowhere, it is in fact in the middle of the future of Norway, either you believe that consists of pumping up oil, harvesting marine resources or creating renewable energy.

The Portugese/Canadian/Australian winning team, consisting of Ana Reis, Ross Langdon, Kelly Doran and Louis Hall, presents a three step strategy for Vardø. First a cultural plan aimed at using existing urban fabric to host new cultural program, second a plan to use Vardø as a protector of the Barents Sea during gas and oil era, and then a post oil strategy for food production based on alternative energy. The project shows an in depth understanding of the town, its surrounding and the larger geo political situation. And it highlights a possible new role; Vardø as safeguard of the Barents Sea and its vulnerable environment. Compared to Kirkenes, a neighbouring town which has dived into the “oilism” and hence jeopardized its fragile nature, this role seems like a better, more responsible pick. Vardø participating in Europan has in reality been a study of what High North policy could mean for a society. The place has acted as a laboratory for experimenting new High North policies and the awarded entries therefore deserve to be studied by the policy makers of the North.

The international project

It is with great satisfaction Europan Norway sees that out of seven laureates, six teams are foreign. The international idea of Europan works! And what a signal it sends; Norway is a land where talents from the world can test and possibly realize their ideas. Europan is not about cheering national participant, quite the contrary, but it is a good sign that young Norwegian practitioners continue to hook up to the international scene through Europan.

Impact of ideas Europan

Norway has during the E10 session increased its activities. We are now on the state budget which allows us to expand our activities even further. We have had exhibitions in all the three Norwegian Europan 10 cities, a result exhibition at the Norwegian Center for Design and Architecture in Oslo, and we have launched a new webpage where all entries presented form an archive of ideas from Europan 7 up till now. All of this to expand the impact of the competition, the ideas it promotes and the participants it involves. The founding of Europan 20 years ago in Paris was a protest against conservative architecture and urbanism. Even though Europan Norway now is politically accepted through the state budget of Norway this should not mean Europan has become politically correct. Quite the contrary, we should strive to exemplify alternative routes and approaches in the spirit of the creation Europan two decades ago. We hope Europan Norway now can use its new position to continue innovating new spatial frameworks for Norwegian cities with even more boldness.